India is a country that is expected to play a central role in the 21st century. Having a large and fast-growing economy, it is also strengthening its military and is well positioned to dominate South Asia and extend its influence beyond it. But it must also face notable challenges, both domestically and geopolitically.
THE GEOGRAPHICAL BASES OF INDIA’S POWER
To understand India’s current international role and to anticipate the one it will have in the coming decades, it is necessary to analyse the geographic fundamentals of its power.
The first thing to consider is its dimension. India is a vast state and this has several positive and negative implications. On the one hand, this means that India can benefit from a notable strategic depth, but on the other it also means that connecting all the parts of its territory is a difficult endeavour.
This must be considered along with India’s configuration. Its territory presents a wide range of environments and climatic areas. Far to the north there are the towering mountains of Himalaya, a formidable geographic barrier that separates it from China. This is important, considering the complicated relations between the two powers.
Then, there are the fertile valleys of the Ganges and other rivers, which are vital sources of water and useful communication lanes that have favoured agriculture, industrialization and energy production.
The Deccan Plateau that occupies the southern part of the Peninsula is another notable geographic feature, also because of its mineral resources.
India holds quite abundant ore deposits that have helped its industrialization. In terms of energy, while it has its own production of oil and other fossil fuels, this is not sufficient to meet the country’s large and expanding needs.
Other areas include jungles, arid deserts and tropical shores; which all present both advantages and challenges: for instance, the Thar desert between India and Pakistan is a useful buffer zone, but is also a problem for economic development.
Finally, in terms of position India occupies most of South Asia, and its location favours both defence and power projection. As seen before, it benefits from good natural barriers to the north, but at the same time its neighbours are not friendly.
To the north-east, China is getting everyday more powerful and its geopolitical ambitions are a matter of concern for India.
To the north-west lays Pakistan, which apart from being India’s arch-nemesis since the 1947 partition has also built close ties with the PRC. But while the situation to the north is very challenging for India, its southern borders are very favourable.
There, the coast extends for thousands of kilometres on the open Ocean. This means three things: first, that there are no hostile powers at the border that threaten India’s security; even though it does not see positively China’s activities in that maritime area.
Second, this grants India an easy access to offshore resources and most importantly to sea trade. This is also favoured by the fact that India is located mid-way between East Asia …